Spring Birdwatching in Lesbos

A customer travelled on our 'Lesbos' tour and submitted this entry to our writing competition.

Ruppel's Warbler by Mick Doyle

In the early hours of the morning, we sat at Athens Airport eating the Greek equivalent of pain au chocolat, with co-leader Dan Free. We were waiting for our short flight to Mytilini, all the while wondering what delights Lesbos had in store for us. We were the usual mixed bunch: singles, couples, novices, experts, seasoned travellers and the not-so-seasoned like Pete and I, but all with one thing in common – the love of BIRDS. This was our third Naturetrek holiday – would it deliver as well as the others had?

Travel-weary but excited, we arrived at our hotel and were greeted by the unmistakeable melodies of a Nightingale singing in the garden – our holiday had begun! We were joined by the larger than life figure that is Chris Murphy: extrovert, comical, but above all extremely knowledgeable. Within minutes, our two very different, but equally excellent leaders had us ‘birding’ for real; wetlands, beach, olive groves, mountains and much, much more right on our doorstep!

I see bird watching as a truly enchanting part of my life, no matter where I am or what I am doing. I have worked in very ‘serious’ jobs for such a large part of my life that my leisure time has to be more light-hearted; so don’t expect to read this and find in-depth discussion or description – you won’t find it, I was far too busy enjoying myself.

What a stunning island in spring – beautiful turquoise Aegean, fabulous diverse scenery, wild flowers everywhere including the most intense red poppies I have ever seen in my life and that’s before I even mention the birds! Team this with scrumptious laid-back taverna or picnic lunches, a friendly hotel, with excellent food and accommodation, good company, two expert guides and what more can you ask?

Before long I was ticking birds off my ‘Wish List’: flamingoes grazing on the saltpans – not very exciting for some, but truly awesome for me; Stone Curlews, Collared Pratincoles; fabulous Glossy Ibis and Black Storks; real views of Garganey – not just the distant one sleeping on the spit at Titchwell! Wow, I was in heaven!

There were many highlights, but one that immediately springs to mind is a very steep walk up to the monastery at Ipsalou, which is perched on one of the two highest points on Lesbos; a stone pathway leads to the church on the summit – straight out of Mamma Mia. I loved it! And for those of you more serious types – there were endless birds on the climb up, too, including glorious Golden Oriole, Cinereous Bunting, a Rock Sparrow using a Rock Nuthatch’s nest, Wood Warbler, Sombre Tit, Alpine Swift ... and the views from our mountainside picnic spot were breathtaking (the food wasn’t bad either!).

There was so much around that we hardly ever went more than a hundred yards in the minibus before stopping abruptly to get out and look at something else. A Little Bittern struggling to eat a frog, a Short-toed Eagle with a snake hanging from its talons, a Little Owl or a Flycatcher on a roadside fencepost, 20-odd Lesser Kestrels hovering over a picturesque valley, Red Backed Shrikes performing a mating ritual, Turtle Doves cooing on the wires, a gigantic monastery with Emus and Peacocks, where monks are building 365 chapels in order to pray at a different one each day of the year!

Other highlights were unbelievable views of Baillon’s Crake, Ruppell’s Warbler,  Kruper’s Nuthatch, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Middle Spotted Woodpecker, to name but a few. It was great to see so many of the more common birds that we had seen on previous European trips and seeing Blind Wheatears again (Isabelline to you), brought back hilarious memories of Bulgaria in 2009, when I genuinely thought that Andy Smith was telling us to look out for a remarkable sightless bird! Oh dear!

All in all, with memories like these and countless photos to cherish, I reckon I can  say without a shadow of a doubt, Lesbos AND Naturetrek, you delivered; the recipe is perfect, don’t change a single ingredient!!!!

Read more about our 'Lesbos' holiday.

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